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Linux standard gains big-name backers

If Linux Standard Base 2.0 becomes the de facto guide for companies working on open source, Microsoft may face more competition.

A number of software makers and well-known IT vendors have agreed to endorse the Free Standards Group's latest Linux standard to help create common ground for companies building open-source technologies.

The San Francisco-based nonprofit said Monday that open-source software makers around the world have already adopted the guideline, known as Linux Standard Base 2.0. In addition, the Free Standards Group said a handful of high-profile vendors already working with Linux technology are backing the standard, including Advanced Micro Devices, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Intel.

"As with any standard you must reach a certain critical mass to gain recognition," said Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Free Standards Group. "We've gained total support from the world's Linux software makers and having these other vendors come lend their support goes a long way."

Linux Standard Base 2.0 was first released to the public in January, but the Free Standards Group officially launched a final version of the guideline on Monday.

The trade group's goal with Linux Standard Base 2.0 is to create a central point of reference for programmers and companies working on open-source technologies. While Linux was created primarily by individuals adding their own touches to the free operating system launched by Linus Torvalds in 1991, over the years it has been funneled into a number of different versions, specifically by companies looking to reap profits from their own iterations of the software, including Red Hat and Novell.

If the Free Standards Group can make Linux Standard Base 2.0 the de facto guideline for companies working with the open-source operating system, the effort could help vendors compete more closely with Microsoft, whose Windows operating system dominates the market. In the past, Microsoft has used the existence of many variations of Linux as a marketing tool for Windows, implying that the variety of software versions equates to potential instability and unpredictability in working with the open-source software.

Zemlin asserts that Microsoft has been overstating the idea that Linux is unstable, in an attempt to instill a "fear of fragmentation" about open-source products across the IT industry. However, he said that the software giant's current policy of using Window's total cost of ownership to market against Linux speaks volumes.

"Customers are smart enough to understand that efforts like Linux Standard Base are reducing the need to worry about stability, and now Microsoft is pointing at the cost of supporting Linux as an advantage," he said. "If price is their best bet to fight Linux, I think open source is winning the battle already."

From Dell's perspective, lending support to Linux Standard Base 2.0 will help prevent a scenario similar to the splintering of the Unix software market, when various companies built their own incompatible versions of the operating system and created long-term headaches for customers and developers alike.

"If you look at the days of Unix fragmentation, you can see why we hope that wouldn't occur again," said Judy Chavis, director of business development at Dell Product Group. "The key for Dell is that with the Linux Standard Base binary code, we won't be forced to rewrite our software every time there is a new Linux distribution."

For example, Chavis said that Dell is working to make its business management software compliant with the standard. While the Round Rock, Texas-based company does not produce a great deal of software, Chavis said Dell remains tightly focused on promoting efforts that will simplify interoperability among different technologies.

At its core, Linux Standard Base 2.0 is meant to standardize how some aspects of Linux work, with the goal of making it easier for software makers to create programs that run on different companies' versions of the open-source operating system. Software developers already working on Linux Standard Base-certified products include Red Hat, SuSE Linux, MandrakeSoft, Conectiva, ThizLinux Laboratory, Sun Wah Linux, Turbolinux and Progeny.